Christians are often called “People of the Book”. We take the sacred writings very seriously. All mainline Christian denominations accept the 66 books of the Bible that make up our canon. Most mainline denominations also accept 15 Apocrypha books, books that are sometimes considered the in-between books, between the First Testament and the Second Testament. We include them in the can, but we do not give them the same value as the 66 canonical books of the Bible. Christians can also be referred to as “People of the Person”, and that person being the Living Word, Jesus Christ.
The Written Word, points us to and is inspired by the Holy Spirit to bring us into communion with the Living Word. We do not serve the Bible. That’s called Bibliolatry. This is not the Living Word. This leads us to and opens our minds up to the Living Word. Christianity is a faith tradition that points us to God, through the person of Jesus Christ.
Timothy was a protégée of the apostle Paul. Timothy is carrying on the work that Paul and Barnabas started with the church in Ephesus. Paul begins our first reading this morning with these words to young Timothy:
As for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14-17)
Paul is encouraging young Timothy to continue practicing the tenets of his faith, a tradition of values and principles passed down to him from his grandmother Lois and mother Eunice, faith beliefs and practices established from sacred writings. For Timothy it would be The Torah (five books of Moses), the Prophets, Poetry and the Writings of the Hebrew Bible. Second Timothy was probably written in the early to mid-60’s. The Apostle Paul had written a few letters to the local churches in cities like Thessalonica, Philippi, Corinth and Ephesus, and this was before the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Timothy’s father was Greek, and his grandmother Lois and mother were Hebrew. At that time Lystra had become a Roman colony in 6 AD. It is a city in what is now known as Turkey. Paul and Barnabas visited here on their first missionary tour together. Lystra was the first city they visited that was primarily Greek. The city did not have a synagogue; however we know a community of Hebrews lived and worshipped in the city. Timothy met Paul on his first visit. On Paul’s second missionary trip he again stopped in Lystra. This is where Timothy joined Paul’s traveling missionary team.
On Timothy’s third tour with Paul, they stopped in Ephesus, and for three years they taught and encouraged the growing church in Ephesus. Paul left Timothy in Ephesus and he went on to Macedonia. The first letter was written by Paul from Macedonia to young Timothy who was the mission developer for the church in Ephesus. Second Timothy was written by Paul, from a prison cell in Rome. The first few years of his prison time in Rome was not so unpleasant. He was allowed to stay with friends who took cared of his needs. However, when Nero took over, things changed. Paul is discouraged and lonely. He is now in chains in a dungeon like prison. Many of the disciples cannot fine where he is located. He is in need of help, and he asks Timothy to leave Ephesus and come to him in Rome, as soon as possible.
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. (2 Timothy 4:1-2)
Paul urges Timothy to proclaim the message. And, what is this message? The message is the ‘mystery of faith”. We acknowledge that mystery this morning at Holy Eucharist with these words:
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again!
Paul encourages Timothy to stay on message, to stay on point, even when doesn’t feel like it. You ever have a day when you just don’t feel like going to church: or even getting up out of bed in the morning? It reminds me of the story about a mother who calls upstairs to her son to get out of bed. She says: “Son, you need to get out of bed. You’re going to be late for church”. She gets no response and so she goes to the foot of the stairs and calls out again, and with no response. She then goes upstairs into his bedroom and says: “Son, you need to get out of bed. You’re going to be late for church”. The son says: “I don’t want to go to church. I don’t like those people and those people don’t like me”. Mom says: “Son, you’re the rector, your 60 year’s old, and you need to get to church”.
Paul continues with encouraging words for Timothy: “As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully”. (2 Timothy 4:5)
The word sober here means not to take ministry responsibilities lightly; to be clear-headed; to avoid prejudices and to put aside personal baggage, even when it involves times of dis-comfort or suffering. “Do the work of an evangelist, and carry out your ministry fully”. In other words, let your feet and your life do the talking. You become the messenger of the gospel. You are a person of the book, but you are also linked in the work of ministry with a person, the person of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit illuminates the written word and points us to the living word. We do not worship this book. We do not worship the cross. We do not worship the altar. We do not worship icons. All of these thing point us to God, but they are pointers, just as my sermon is intended to point you toward Jesus Christ.
And, that pointing here for the Apostle Paul is intended to encourage Timothy to not only read and teach but to take action with the message, to live it out, not just on paper or in a book, but in real life settings, “where the rubber meets the road”.
In our gospel reading this morning from Luke 18:1-8, Jesus tells a parable that points us to persistence in prayer. The parable is about a widow that keeps coming to an unjust judge who neither respects people or fears God. He refuses to help her at first, but because of the constant bother of the widow, he relents and gives her justice so she won’t pester him anymore. Jesus says if an unjust judge grants justice because of the continued persistence of the widow, don’t you think that a loving God will listen to his chosen ones that intercede day and night, and not delay in helping them”?
Paul is encouraging Timothy to build the church, to recognize and train leaders, to ground the church with good solid teaching, and to take his ministry seriously. The written word points us to God, and instructs us to make the principles of the kingdom of God active in our life. In other words, to take action. There is a time to read and a time to pray. There is a time to take action, to become the feet or sometimes answer to our prayers or perhaps the prayers of others.
Jesus says in Matthew 18:16: “I will build my church”. This work is participatory. That’s the message to Timothy, and to the church in Ephesus where the two letters were undoubtedly read aloud and discussed among the people of the congregation. It’s off balance if we read the Bible behind closed doors, pray together and then go home, only to do it again next Sunday. Jesus does build His church, but he does it alongside and with us, participating in the process.
This past week I spent a few days in Milwaukee talking and working alongside of mission developers and pastors from cities all over the United States; mission developers that take the Living Word with them into the streets and public places of the communities they live and work in. Our group met at an inner city that is known for its poverty and high crime rate. Pastor Mary Martha is the pastor of Hephatha Lutheran Church. Pastor Mary Martha, isn’t that a wonderful name? May Martha was commissioned 14 years ago to become the pastor of the church and to make plans to close the church. The church had experienced the loss of most of its members due to white flight and a decaying neighborhood.
You would never know that today. The church is not a wealthy church, by no means. But, it is thriving spiritually. They not only offer multiple ministries in their buildings and grounds, but they take the Living Word into the community. They are involved in tutoring, feeding the poor, alliances with local schools, ministries to the homeless and marginalized, working with Habitat for Humanity, who took on a street, tore down a dozen house and rebuilt affordable homes for the neighborhood. They are making plans for other streets as well. On Sunday morning the Mayor of Milwaukee just happened to drop by and say a few words of appreciation for the work of Hephatha. How many times does a mayor just happen to drop in on a church on any given Sunday morning?
We are all called to be evangelists, to do the work of our ministry and callings, participating with the Holy Spirit that leads us forward. The sacred writings of the Bible instruct us for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus The scripture is useful for teaching, for correction and training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient and equipped for every good work.
We are equipped top to share the good news, and to do it not only by word, but by word and deed. Jesus says that He will build His Church. We are invited to participate in this building. It’s both and, not an either or scenario. And at the end of the day we can say with the psalmist: “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. Except the Lord keep the city, the watchmen are vain. It is vain to rise up early, to set up late and eat the bread of sorrows, for so he gives his beloved sleep”. (Psalm 127:1-2)
The Written Word points us to the Living Word. We are called People of the Book, but we are also known as People of the Person, the person of Jesus Christ.
The Reverend Dr. David Madsen